Universal Service Obligation

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a long-standing consumer protection that ensures everyone has access to landline telephones and payphones regardless of where they live or work.

Telstra is responsible for delivering the USO, and must provide standard telephone services (STS) on request to every premises in Australia within reasonable timeframes. This is both a legislative and contractual obligation.

In December 2018 the Government announced the USO would be incorporated into a new, wider Universal Service Guarantee (USG), including both broadband and voice.

The Australian Government is currently examining universal service arrangements in light of changes in available technologies and consumer preferences over recent years. More information on how to be involved is available from our have your say page, and submissions are due by 1 March 2024. 

Trials of voice services will also be undertaken in 2024. The department published a Request for Tender (RFT) on 9 February 2024 to seek a provider to undertake technical trials to consider the performance of potential alternative services. Tenders are due by 2.00pm (local ACT time) on 6 March 2024.

Better reporting requirements for Telstra

Under its carrier licence conditions, Telstra is reporting more frequent, localised and detailed data on its performance outside the NBN fixed-line footprint, where generally it still provides its own infrastructure to deliver STS.

Telstra is required to report publicly each quarter against a number of key indicators and provides performance details to the department and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The data reporting requirements include service availability, connection timeframes, faults and outages, repair timeframes and appointment timeframes at the exchange service area level. It also provides national complaint and customer contact handling data.

By ensuring access to more detailed information, this reporting framework provides the community with greater transparency and gives the department a more comprehensive understanding of the performance and reliability of Telstra's network on the ground.

Quarterly reports can be downloaded from Telstra’s Regional Service Performance page.

Telstra Universal Service Obligation Performance Agreement

We administer the Telstra Universal Service Obligation Performance Agreement (Agreement) on behalf of the Australian Government. The Agreement sets out the scope of services to be performed by Telstra in delivering standard telephone and payphone services under the USO.

We regularly assess Telstra's performance to determine whether it has met the requirements set out in the Agreement. The performance criteria are based on fixed-line and payphone standards and benchmarks made under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (TCPSS Act). Performance information after 1 July 2016 is contained in the relevant Departmental Annual Reports. Performance information prior to 1 July 2016 is contained in Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) Annual Reports.

In accordance with s.71 and s.72 of the TCPSS Act, the Department is required to maintain publicly-available registers of contracts and grants, including the Agreement, on its website. Details required to be published include:

  • the name of the contractor/grant recipient;
  • the value and duration of the contract/grant; and
  • a description of the scope of services required – in this case, under Module B – STS USO and Module C- Payphones USO, of the Agreement.

The register of contracts and grants is available online.

Productivity Commission Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation

USO arrangements were originally put in place before the widespread use of mobile and broadband services. In April 2016, the Government requested the Productivity Commission (PC) undertake an inquiry into the future direction of the USO in an evolving telecommunications market.

The PC released its report into the telecommunications USO on 19 June 2017. The report provided a range of recommendations regarding the future of universal access to a minimum level of retail telecommunication services. The final report is available on the Productivity Commission's website.

The Government released its response to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation on 20 December 2017. The response outlined the Government's intention to establish a Universal Service Guarantee. The Government confirmed its approach to the USG in December 2018, while committing to further improving USG delivery over time.